Hickenlooper’s budget pays for disasters, more education funds | SummitDaily.com

Hickenlooper’s budget pays for disasters, more education funds

DENVER — Large, destructive wildfires and historic flooding put a dent on Colorado’s finances, influencing Gov. John Hickenlooper’s latest budget proposal Friday, but the state is doing well enough that colleges and schools will see more funding.

The Hickenlooper administration has been forced to use $122 million from the state’s budget this year to pay for damages from the disasters, money that that could’ve been used next year on other programs.

“Really, the floods have thrown a curveball to the end of the year,” said Henry Sobanet, Hickenlooper’s budget director.

The flooding in September was the worst in state history, destroying or damaging thousands of homes and hundreds of miles of roads.

“Colorado is still recovering from the most destructive flooding in the state’s history,” Hickenlooper said in a statement.

But the state’s economy has been steadily improving from the Great Recession, and there’s enough money to increase funding for public school students and state colleges next year under Hickenlooper’s proposal.

Hickenlooper is proposing increasing per-pupil funding by $223 next year, bringing the total to $6,875 per student. That means the state will be able to keep pace with inflation and student enrollment.

Hickenlooper is also proposing restoring higher education funding to exceed pre-recession levels by adding $101.8 million for financial aid and to limit tuition growth.

Friday’s proposed budget is just a first step. Lawmakers will spend months next year working on it.

The proposed budget also doesn’t account for next week’s vote on a $1 billion tax increase for schools, and a marijuana tax. If those pass, there will be amendments to the budget.

Using money from this year’s budget, Colorado is repaying $50 million it borrowed from the state’s Medicaid program to help with flood recovery. The state is also repaying $48 million from the controlled maintenance trust fund that was also shifted to use for flood damages.

The state has $46 million to use this year for any unexpected expenses from the disasters. That will most likely include help to counties for with a 25 percent match for FEMA aid.

The proposed total budget for fiscal year 2014-2015 is $24 billion, including state and federal funds. The general fund, which includes tax revenue, is $9 billion.

Other budget highlights:

— Increasing the state’s budget reserve to 6.5 percent, up from the current 5 percent.

— An initiative to reduce wait times at the state’s driver license offices.

— Repaying $109.4 in cash funds that were used in the general fund during the recession.

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